Professor Aliza Nisenbaum Unveils Mural Commissioned by Art on the Underground

June 22, 2019

Visual Arts Assistant Professor Aliza Nisenbaum recently unveiled the results of a three-month long residency with Art on the Underground, in which she painted a colorful large-scale group portrait depicting fifteen Transport for London workers, who work across the service-provider spectrum. The enlarged, vinyl mural will be exhibited until September 16, 2019 at the Brixton Underground Station in Brixton, London. The original painting will be shown at Nisenbaum’s forthcoming exhibition at Anton Kern Gallery in New York starting September 12, 2019.


For three months, Nisenbaum worked in a studio next to the Brixton Station meeting the group who would be painted and observing their relationships, which would ultimately determine where and how they were depicted. The sitters for the large group portrait all work for the Transport for London network across the Victoria line, including train drivers, operational staff and those working in facilities and administration. According to Town & Country, “They are portrayed alongside Underground-inspired motifs, including the yellow ‘mind the gap’ line, the purple-grey speckled floors found on Victoria Line trains, green tiles specifically seen at Brixton station and the small circular mirrors found at the end of the platform (in which Nisenbaum has charmingly included a selfie).”


Speaking on the selection of individuals in her final mural, Nisenbaum told Town & Country, “We chose people who had been there the longest, who had really deep ties with Brixton, who grew up there and had seen the landscape change dramatically through their lifetime.” Her work on the mural drew inspiration from both the murals of 1980s Brixton and those of her birthplace, Mexico City. She’s “interested in the politics of visibility: who and why someone is depicted…to pay attention to someone can be a political act,” according to the Contemporary Art Society.


Christine Takengny, a curator who visited Nisenbaum in her studio noted in the Contemporary Art Society that her “practice is socially engaged, and her paintings are the result of the individual exchanges between herself and her subjects. Her elaborate oeuvre challenges the social and representational hierarchies of traditional portraiture. For Nisenbaum, the people she paints are not passive sitters but active and engaged collaborators who are depicted with grace, composure and pride at a time when society often treats them as invisible.”


Aliza Nisenbaum was born in Mexico City and received her BFA and MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. She has been a resident at the Minneapolis Institute of Art, The Sharpe-Walentas Studio Program; Lower Manhattan Cultural Council; Artist-in-Residence at the University of Tennessee; and SOMA Summer, Mexico City. Fellowships and grants include the Rema Hort Mann NYC award, and the Fellowship for Immigrant Women Leaders from NYC Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs (MOIA). She has also been a participating artist at Immigrant Movement International, Corona Park, Queens. She is a recent recipient of the Provost’s Junior Faculty Diversity Development Award, Columbia University.